ASM Community Science Program Expands Internationally

Jan. 17, 2024

The ASM Community Science Grant program provides members with funding to help support public engagement programming in their local communities. Following a 2022 trial run for ASM members based in the U.S., in 2023 the program was opened to ASM members worldwide, ultimately supporting 17 individual projects in 9 different countries. Below are highlights from the various events and activities that took place around the world.

Asia

Bangladesh

ASM member Tanvir Ahmad Nizami, DVM, M.S., organized “Microbes Unmasked: Enhancing Health and Hygiene,” an event that took place at the Chattogram Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.

A group of scientists in lab coats examining samples.
Participants take part in the "Microbes Unmasked: Enhancing Health and Hygiene" event.
Source: Tanvir Ahmad Nizami, DVM, M.S.
Aiming to raise awareness about different pathogenic microbes for first-year students from the school’s department of microbiology and veterinary public health, Nizami constructed a mini “microbiological zoo” that displayed several pathogenic bacterial species. The name and identification of each microorganism, along with its potential hazards, were displayed for students to explore. Nizami also supplied attendees with a leaflet containing information on health and hygiene practices and the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

To ensure the lessons stuck, Nizami arranged a quiz competition for attendees, with the top 3 winners receiving prizes. According to Nizami, “The participants were very engaging and satisfied and were also eager to learn about different culture methods for microbes.” He hopes to repeat the event in future years.

Pakistan

A group of people in lab coats
Primary school teachers take part in a hand hygiene demonstration as part of an ASM outreach event held at Veterinary Research Institute Peshawar.
Source: Sohail Khan
The focus for Sohail Khan’s project at the Veterinary Research Institute Peshawar was handwashing. Khan invited primary school teachers from the local community to learn about the importance of proper handwashing technique, with the goal of passing this information on to their students. Along with demonstrations and informational sessions, participants compared microbial growth obtained from swab samples of everyday items, including doorknobs, shelves and floors, as well as their own hands before and after washing.

Khan is already thinking about how to expand this project. “The success of the event has motivated me to arrange the same kind of activities for participants from all walks of life,” he said.

India

Dr. Hironmoy Sarkar organized an event titled "Look the Bacteria on Your Hands," a 2-day microbiology workshop for students at Raiganj Coronation High School in West Bengal. Sarkar and his team of volunteers led a group of more than 40 students through in-depth demonstrations and explanations of proper handwashing technique. “Students were super-excited to do this kind of experiment,” said Sarkar. “This will really motivate me to do this kind of event in the future.” Moving forward, he hopes to expand this type of workshop to other schools in the region, something that will certainly be helped by the coverage in local news.

Three rows of people posing for a picture on school steps.
Students from Raiganj High School participated in the "Look the Bacteria on Your Hands" workshop.
Source: Hironmoy Sarkar

Africa

Ghana

University of Energy and Natural Resources

A man holding a poster, standing in front of a chalkboard.
Organizer Mark Adu Gyamfi discusses hand hygiene.
Source: Mark Adu Gyamfi
More than 60 junior high students from Fiapre Methodist Junior High School B took part in “Enhancing Hand Hygiene Practices Among Young Children in Rural Communities.” Organized by Mark Adu Gyamfi, a researcher from the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Sunyani, the program involved demonstrations from scientists on proper handwashing techniques and a discussion of how to combat and prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance. “This project not only contributed to improved hygiene practices but also worked toward building a healthier and more conscious community,” stated Gyamfi.

Anfoega Volta Market

Quarshie Frederick, a representative from the North Dayi District Assembly, took microbiology lessons to the streets by organizing a demonstration of safe food handling at the Anfoega market in the Volta Region of Ghana. Frederick and his colleagues interacted directly with market patrons and sellers, discussing the unseen microbial challenges that affect food safety, emphasizing proper sanitary techniques and demonstrating preventative measures. According to Frederick, “This is the first time such an exercise has been done in the district.”

Woman sitting at a table being handed something by another person.
Organizers hand out information flyers at the Anfoega market.
Source: Quarshie Frederick
Policymakers and researchers learned from market participants about steps that could help address some of these issues, such as providing improved sanitation and plumbing. The challenges affecting the biweekly Anfoega market, which serves approximately 1,000 households, are by no means limited to this particular location. Therefore, as Frederick pointed out, government officials “will be grateful if the exercise can be extended to other communities in the district.”

Ghana College of Nurses and Midwives

In Nalerigu, Aaron Eyram Nyadezor from the Procare Medical Laboratory organized an event at the College of Nursing and Midwifery to educate community members and students on foodborne illness. Participants learned from researchers and health officials about different types of pathogenic bacteria and parasites, got advice on proper food safety habits, such as properly storing and cooking food, and participated in demonstrations of proper handwashing techniques.

Nigeria

Adeleke University

Three people sitting at a desk with computers
Student participants learned about microbiology during the event.
Source: Oluwatosin Ajibade
Oluwatosin Ajibade, Ph.D., M.S., worked with partners at Adeleke University to bring secondary school students together for a daylong event featuring lectures, practical demonstrations and a quiz competition. The different activities focused on raising awareness of microbiology lab techniques and providing advice and information on disease prevention.

"The principals of the schools that attended loved the program,” reported Ajibade. “The pupils were so excited that they asked if it would be an annual event.”

Garima Standard Academy

Meanwhile, Sunday Augustine organized an antimicrobial resistance (AMR) awareness session at Garima Standard Academy in Minna Niger State. The event was aimed at creating awareness about AMR among secondary school students.

A group of people standing and holding signs.
Organizer Sunday Augustine poses with student participants.
Source: Sunday Augustine
Participants learned about the science of AMR through a combination of presentations, interactive demos and discussions.

“I am committed to continuing our efforts to raise awareness about AMR and promote responsible antimicrobial use,” vowed Augustine. To do so, he is working with the students on a number of follow-up initiatives, including a mobile AMR awareness campaign, an AMR hackathon, a free AMR film festival and an AMR advocacy walk through local communities.

Michael Okpara University of Agriculture

Awah Favour Matthew from the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture gave a weeklong microbiology lesson for more than 150 local K-12 students from the Amowom community school. Attendees got the chance to participate in hands-on microbiology activities, such as using microscopes to observe aquatic microbes and building Winogradsky columns. Students then researched a microbiology topic and presented it to their classmates.

“The ASM community grant has been, and will remain, a tool for shining lights on the dark microbial world,” stated Matthew. “Through the ASM community grant, my team and I have been able to spur great interest in the hearts of young minds.”

Rwanda

Hyacinthe Tuyubahe, a member of the ASM Subcommittee on the Status of Historically Excluded Groups (SSHEG), organized the “African Life Science Enhancement Forum.” Conceived for prospective microbiologists, the interactive event featured career guidance sessions, basic training workshops, scientific presentations and networking opportunities. “All life scientists in Africa need to benefit from this program as they face the same challenges in their professional development across the continent,” said Tuyubahe.

Cartoon microscope showing a projection of Africa
According to the ALSEF website, "The Forum is committed to enhancing life science research in Africa by providing a platform for knowledge exchange, networking, and collaboration."
Source: Hyacinthe Tuyubahe

Zimbabwe

A group of people in lab coats standing in front of a building.
Organizer Oscar Mano (second from left) poses with several of his colleagues.
Source: Oscar Mano
At the University of Zimbabwe, Oscar Mano organized a 3-day event to introduce advanced-level biology secondary school students to the fundamental principles of microbiology. Students toured lab facilities, met with researchers and government health staff and got to participate in hands-on demos and activities.

Feedback from participants was extremely positive. “The students expressed interest in the lectures and activities and revealed that they had learned something new in the process,” said Mano. Hoping to build off this year’s success, he plans to work with students to start a microbiology club that will help them become science ambassadors at their own schools.
 

Americas

Brazil

Tatiana Pinto, Ph.D., and her colleagues organized “Teaching Maternity of the University” as part of the 3rd International Symposium on Streptococcus agalactiae Disease (ISSAD 2023) held at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Approximately 2 dozen expecting parents took part in the event, which was aimed at spreading awareness and knowledge about Group B Streptococcus (GBS) disease that can cause severe infections in newborns.


“It was surprising to discover that many pregnant women had never heard about GBS, although this is one of the major agents of perinatal disease,” said Pinto. “This shows that we still have a long run to increase awareness of GBS.” Participating scientists also appreciated being able to connect with individuals who, in Pinto’s words, “might be helped by the research they conduct.”

United States

Old Dominion University

A person holding an origami DNA double helix
A participants shows off an origami DNA double helix.
Source: Angela Wilson
For the Fantastic Planet Festival, hosted by the Barry Art Museum, Angela Wilson, M.S., and a team of ASM volunteers hosted "Going Molecular." Attendees learned about RNA and DNA by building paper origami models of the DNA double helix and 10 different viruses. The interactive table activity also featured a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) jigsaw puzzle, along with medical information about vaccines. One lucky attendee went home with a puzzle and painting of a microscopic image of HPV-infected epithelial cells.

More than 9,000 people were reported to have attended the festival over 3 days, and feedback about “Going Molecular” was extremely positive. “Children really enjoyed the origami, and young adults asked about the HPV vaccine,” reported Wilson. “I think it was a successful science education and artistic event."

Medical College of Wisconsin

A group of people standing in front of a table looking at a microscope.
A volunteer shows an attendee how to use a microscope during the MPS STEM Fair.
Source: Dusanka Djoric
Dusanka Djoric, Ph.D., and colleagues partnered with the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) STEM Fair to organize a hands-on activity aimed at getting local K-12 students interested in microbiology as a career. Nearly 100 booth attendees viewed commercially available slides that contained bacterial samples, fungi, plant and animal components. ASM volunteers then led conversations with the students about what microbiology is and what a microbiologist does.

“The students were ecstatic that they were allowed to set up the microscope on their own,” pointed out Djoric. “We also had a few teachers inquire about partnering and coming to their schools, so we are actively working on building those relationships so we can bring some microbiologists to their classroom.”

University of Maryland School of Medicine

Two men standing in front of a poster.
"Microbiology Day" speakers Dr. Mohammad Sajadi (left) and Dr. Joel Nee-Lartey Blankson (right).
Source: Parham Habibzadeh
Postdoctoral fellow Parham Habibzadeh, Ph.D., led a contingent of microbiologists to Renaissance Academy High School in Baltimore for their “Microbiology Day.” The scientists gave demonstrations of hands-on microbiology activities, and talked about their careers with a group of 40 students. “I think the students had a great time, and I hope we can do this again,” said Habibzadeh.

LSU Health Science Center Shreveport

Monica Cartelle Gestal, Ph.D., organized a team to present microbiology-themed activities at I.D.E.A.S. (Interactive Day of Education and Awareness of Science), held on campus at LSU Health Science Center Shreveport, La. More than 500 children from the local Caddo Parish got the chance to learn about how microbes spread, extract DNA from strawberries and create microbial art.

A group of people standing outside behind a table.
Volunteers showing off microbiology during I.D.E.A.S. Day
Source: Monica Cartelle Gestal
The event was so successful that Gestal and 2 of her students were subsequently invited to visit a fourth-grade class at Eden Gardens Magnet Elementary School. There, they talked about the importance of vaccines and answered questions about what it's like to be a scientist.

“These are incredible opportunities for kids, parents and students to be engaged,” stated Gestal. “Kids are the future and they will be continuing our work and our legacy.”

Overall Impact

After 2 years, the clear take-home message from the Community Science Grant program is that even a modest amount of funding can have a substantial impact on local communities. “None of this would have been possible had we not obtained funds from the ASM Community Science Grant!” exclaimed Djoric.

Pinto agreed. “I just want to congratulate ASM for always being a huge supporter of public outreach events. This makes a huge difference for us, working in a Lower Middle Income Country (LMIC) where this kind of support is rarely offered locally.”

Stay tuned for news about the next round of grant applications on asm.org!


Author: Geoff Hunt, Ph.D.

Geoff Hunt, Ph.D.
Geoff Hunt earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University.